You need to go to Syracuse. No not that Syracuse, the other Syracuse (sorry, Syracuse). Siracusa. The one in Sicily. The Greeks liked it, the Romans liked it, and now I like it.
After the deep meditation that was Forza d’Agro, we shook things up by heading down to a comparatively riotous town, which is to say that it has more than two restaurants that are open at any given time.
(We were regularly mystified by the whimsy that was the restaurant schedule in Forza d’Agro. Some places would be shuttered for days on end, but without a sign in the window or information on a website, it was impossible to know when they’d be willing to receive visitors. We went into a few places that were OPEN – the lights were on and the door was open – but they’d shoo us out. Crazy.)
We’re staying on the island of Ortigia – a little appendix of land at the tip of Syracuse sticking out into the Ionian Sea. It’s the old part of an old city, and the architectural clichés keep rolling in, folks. It’s got the winding alleys with crumbly walls and clotheslines full of t-shirts.
I think everyone probably has washers and dryers and the chamber of commerce gives people money to go to the Goodwill to buy old t-shirts to hang from the line for the old school charm of it all. The Piazza Duomo is said to be one of the most picturesque squares in Italy, and that’s saying something. It was redone in what is called the Sicilian Baroque style after an earthquake in 1693 destroyed much of southeast Sicily. The whole area, including the buildings, sidewalks, and plaza are made from a pale yellow limestone that make everything glow at dusk.
This new-fangled Duomo was built on top of the foundation of a Greek temple that dates back to the 6th century BCE, so they’ve been praying in this spot for a long, long time.
In cute little towns with picturesque windy streets, sometimes the best thing to do is to just wander and see what happens. The other night we spotted a hip looking restaurant, but we were seated as the other half of a four-top. This can be quite awkward, in which you try not to bother the people who have just been hustled over to one side of their table so you can horn in on their real estate. On the other hand, Janine had just been mentioning that notwithstanding my winning personality, she was a little starved for human interaction in English with someone who isn’t me. I was unoffended, although I hoped that the human interaction she was starved for wasn’t a dashing fellow in his late twenties or somesuch. As it turns out our table mates were a retired couple from Scotland who had spent the past three weeks in Syracuse. By the time our evening was over four hours later, we had exchanged numbers, moved on to a bar down the street for round two (or three), and pledged undying devotion to Jim and Geraldine, two of the most charming and lovely people we’ve met in a long, long time. They will doubtless read this entry, and thus I use this forum to reiterate our pledge to take you up on your kind offer to visit you in Edinburgh in the spring. If the other night is any indication, we are going to have a hell of a time there.
And talk about history. When you wander around the set of the Odyssey, you are talking about some old stuff. We continued our tour of old theatres, which included this gem, the Greek Theatre.
I entered the hallowed grounds, muttered “I got your Marquis Theatre RIGHT HERE” and spit five times. (Thus continues my tedious complaint about how they tore down five – count ‘em five – theatres to build a crappy hotel with a crappy theater in it in 1982.)
We ambled about the archeological park that includes the theatre, which dates to the 5th century BCE (before wireless microphones, I think), a limestone quarry, another theatre, and a cave prison that was constructed to produce perfect acoustics so that Dionysius could listen in on his prisoners. We learned all this after the fact, of course, since there was no information about any of it on the site. In fact, just like at Mt. Etna, the ticket office was hiding at the back of a parking lot past all the souvenir stands. Someday they’ll hire some consultant who will tell them to put the ticket office in the front and print a few brochures.
I end this installment with a few words about the best lunch I’ve ever had, and I don’t think I’m kidding. We braved the rain this morning in order to check out the food market, at which we bought six of the most beautiful jumbo prawns I’ve ever seen. We then made our way to a salumeria at the end of the road, where they put together the craziest spread of meats and cheeses that you or I or anyone you know will ever eat.
There were two kinds of pecorino; ricotta rectangles with some kind of jam; and a fresh mozzarella ball splashed with fresh cream and dusted with ground pistachio. We had prosciutto crudo and cotto (cured and cooked); a salumi from Ragusa; an insanely good caponata of roasted peppers, eggplant, celery and tomato; marinated sun-dried tomatoes; a little panino of potato and bitter greens; and other stuff that my mind, which has been turned to slush from the food, just can’t recall, even after looking at the picture. We chased it with local Sicilian whites. The whole shebang came to about twenty bucks.
We’ll be back tomorrow and if it’s half and good and twice as expensive, I’ll still be happy.